Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Game Site OMGPOP Asks Teens to Pay Up

omgpopEarlier this year, casual game site OMGPOP raised $5 million from venture capitalists. Now it’s trying to extract some cash from its users.

The tweens and twenty-somethings who flock to the site can still keep playing games there without paying. But the company wants to convince a few of them to start shelling out $5 a month for subscriptions that gives them access to bonus goodies and credits they can use for power-ups and other virtual goods. The credits will first be used on the site’s new “Hover Kart” game and will eventually be rolled out it to the rest of its 11-game portfolio.

Virtual goods + subscriptions + online games isn’t a new idea by any stretch. It’s really big in Asia, and there are several companies trying to port the model to the U.S. Some, most notably Activision Blizzard’s (ATVI) World of Warcraft and Disney’s (DIS) Club Penguin, are enjoying success on a large scale. I’m just noting OMGPOP’s foray for a couple reasons:

1) Gotta give the company credit for sticking to its guns, from an intellectual property perspective. The site has no problem taking games that have been successful for other people and offering refurbished versions of its own. “Blockles,” its first game, is a Tetris clone. And Hover Kart, its newest one, is an homage to Nintendo’s Mario Kart, which absconded with many of my hours in the mid-90s.

The folks at OMGPOP (and their backers, which include Twitter investor Spark Capital) think this is kosher because they’re not using the games’ trademarked names or characters–only their game play/mechanics (see: the Scrabble/Scrabulous/Lexulous imbroglio). But they’re already spending money defending a Tetris lawsuit, and it will be interesting to see what Nintendo’s legal team has to say about the new game.

2) Gotta give the company, and founder Charles Forman, credit for evolving. Two years ago, Forman was a Y Combinator graduate running a site called iminlikewithyou that was supposed to be some kind of flirting/dating/Facebook hybrid. It got glowing praise from the likes of Om Malik, but it was hard to see how it was going to amount to a business. So Forman changed direction and turned it into a game site.

Fast-forward to today and it’s still not clear if there’s a successful business yet–the site has sold a couple T-shirts, but that’s about it. But at least you can see how it might work. And compared to a lot of its Web 2.0 peers, that’s saying something.

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